Sunday, December 10, 2017

You Should Buy A Home

At least once a week, someone will ask me when I'm going to buy a home.  It started in residency, and it has increased in frequency with every year that I continue to "throw my money away" on rent.  In residency, it was easy to justify not buying a home, because I had over $200,000 in debt and I had no time for home maintenance.  People could understand those reasons.  But as soon as I became an attending, paid off a lot of my debt, and stopped doing 28 hour-plus call shifts, those reasons disappeared.  And suddenly, my renting instead of owning became some sort of personal affront to people who own their homes.

These zealous home owners seem to have made it their personal mission to get me to buy a home too.  They will send me listings in my favourite areas, along with messages about how perfect the living room would be for a games night or how much I would love the granite counter tops.  Any time an article is published that extols the virtues of home ownership, I can expect at least two or three of these people to send it to me.  And if I dare say anything even remotely critical of my apartment, I am immediately subjected to a tirade about how much better owning is and how ridiculous it is that I'm still renting.

But you know what?  I like renting.  For a lot of reasons.

I am not throwing away my money:  I have used various calculators to compare the cost of renting and owning in my situation, and based on the home I would likely buy, renting comes out a few hundred dollars a month ahead of owning.  So contrary to popular belief, I am actually saving money by renting.  People immediately respond by saying "Well...paying a mortgage is forced savings.  No one actually has the discipline to invest the money they save by renting."  To which I just laugh.

I like putting almost zero effort into my home:  This summer, while we were out for dinner with friends, I got a phone call that my kitchen sink had overflowed and was flooding the apartment below it.  My (now ex-) partner had to run home to shop vac up the mess, but otherwise the building took care of everything, including paying a plumber premium rates to come out on a Friday evening.  The cost to us was zero, and the time involved to deal with it was minimal.  As has been the case for anything else that has gone wrong with the apartment.  The only maintenance I'm responsible for is replacing the light bulbs!  There is no snow to shovel, no leaves to rake, no grass to mow.  And I love it.

I love my location:  The ex and I started looking at homes earlier this year, and when we talked about where we wanted to live, we both decided that we were already living in the perfect neighbourhood.  It generally takes me 15 minutes or less to drive to and from work, which gives me so much more free time than the crazy people who drive 45 minutes or more to the suburbs.  My apartment is in mature area with old houses and lots of trees, so it's a beautiful place to walk when the weather is nice.  I'm within walking distance of two major restaurant areas, so I can have a drink or two without worrying about driving home.  I can even walk to the library!  Because it's a very desirable and popular neighbourhood, the housing prices here are high.  So I'd be paying even more than a few hundred dollars a month extra to have a nice house or condo in the area where I'm already happily living*.

My apartment is nearly perfect:  In addition to location, there are a lot of things I love about my apartment.  I have huge balconies (plural) to sit on; there are two washing machines and two dryers just down the hall; there is an exercise room that I use on occasion; there's an indoor hot tub; and I have heated indoor parking.  The size of my apartment is pretty perfect for a single person with minimalist tendencies.  My building is also filled with dogs who love to visit, which means I get the pleasure of enjoying other people's dogs without ever having to pick up their poop. 

I hate the idea of taking on more debt:  Although all the other reasons are valid, this is probably at the heart of why I am not looking to buy a home right now.  I still have a six-figure debt, and on my current repayment schedule I'm four years away from paying it off.  The idea of adding a six-figure mortgage to that makes me want to vomit.  "But it's good debt," people say.  Gaaaaahhhhh.  No.  It's still debt.  It's still money that I would owe to someone else, which would limit my choices and almost guarantee that I would have to stay at my current job until the debt is gone.

I may buy a home someday.  Once the debt is gone and I've saved a bigger nest egg for retirement, I can see myself being interested in buying a place.  Something with a bigger kitchen and more space to entertain and hardwood floors, because carpets are gross when you have cats.  But at the current moment, renting works for me.

Which ties into one of the most important (and cliché) things I've learned about personal finances:  it's personal.  Everyone has their own unique circumstances, preferences, and neuroses, so there is no one perfect formula for life happiness and financial success.  Lots of people want to buy a home, and it makes sense to them, so great!  Buy a home.

Just stop telling me that I should too.

*I looked at an apartment condo a few buildings down from where I'm living, and the condo was over half a million dollars with condo fees that were only slightly less than my rent.  It was a really nice condo, but OMG talk about throwing money away.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Living Now Instead of Ten Years From Now

I don't think I knew just how focused I was on my FIRE date until I started actively trying to not think about it.  Since adopting the "set it and forget it" approach to money, I have noticed that I think about FIRE all the time.

Waking up in the morning:  "In ten years, I won't have to set an alarm clock."
Seeing a difficult patient:  "After I FIRE, I won't have to see any patients at all."
Editing trainee dictations:  "I hate my life!  Woe is me!  This is the worst thing ever!"

(Also..."I will never have to edit another poorly written trainee dictation after I retire.")

It's...sad.  Here I am doing what I have trained most of my adult life to do, and I'm dreaming of what comes next.  And it isn't because I hate my job; it's because I have this idea that retirement is going to be so much better.  I've internalized the belief that work is just something you do to earn money before you can quit.

I'm trying really hard to stop.  Any time I catch myself thinking "I just earned enough to not have to work for three days", I am pausing, noticing the thought, and letting it go.  I'm trying to mentally be here, now, instead of when I retire in ten (or more) years.  Because constantly resenting the now and dreaming of later doesn't make anything better.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Set It And Forget It

I am really lucky to have had a Dad who was an insurance salesperson and later a financial advisor.  From the time I was a kid, we had long talks about money and economics and saving for the future.  I had a university savings account from the time I was five, and half of my $2 a week allowance got put into it.  When I turned 18, my Dad gave me a $500 RRSP and a copy of The Wealthy Barber for my birthday, complete with the advice to always put 10% of my earnings directly into savings.

"Even when I'm a university student and I can barely afford to pay my tuition", I asked?

Yes.  Even when I was a university student and I could barely afford to pay my tuition.  Always.

Along with the recommendation to save at least 10% of my earnings, my Dad advised me to "set it and forget it".  Pick a good investment vehicle (or vehicles), set up a monthly direct deposit, and then almost never look at it.  Check it every 3-6 months to make sure the investment strategy is still sound, adjust as necessary, and then ignore it.  Don't get caught up in the day to day fluctuations in the market, which cause people to make damaging emotional decisions, and just focus on long-term wealth building.

This strategy served me well.  I followed his advice through my 20s, and by the time I started medical school at 29 I had a nice chunk of savings, which I kept for retirement instead of putting towards school.  And I kept up the 10% rule through medical school and residency, so even though I became a wild spending machine, I was still building some savings.  (Although not nearly as rapidly as I was building debt, sadly.)  The best part of the "set it and forget it" advice was that I could do just that:  forget it.  I included savings in my budget, they came out automatically, and I could rest comfortable in the knowledge that I was preparing for the future.

All of that changed when I became an attending.  As a fee-for-service physician, I was no longer earning a regular paycheque.  The amount I took home fluctuated wildly depending on whether I was on call, how busy my clinics were, and whether I took vacation.  This year, for example, there was a four-fold difference between my best and my worst paid months.  I'm not complaining at all about how much I am paid - it's wonderful to earn enough to save over 2/3 of what I'm earning without having to adopt Frugalwoods-level frugality - but I have struggled a lot with the variability of my income.

In good months, when I am earning and savings lots, I feel great.  In months when I'm not on call or I lose a lucrative Monday clinic to a long weekend, I feel anxious.  What if I don't save as much as I normally do?  What if this is the beginning of a decline in my income, and I'm not going to be in a position to retire in 5-7 years?  What if I burn out and can't keep working until I FIRE?

I hate it.  I hate that I'm earning way more than I need to live and yet I'm just as anxious about money as ever.  I've tried not looking at my net worth, and it did help to reduce my anxiety, but I'm not very good at ignoring my net worth on an ongoing basis.  I'm good enough at mental math that I can generally estimate my net worth even if I'm not looking at my spreadsheet.

I've been thinking a lot about this anxiety, and I realized that a lot of it stems from having set a very aggressive FIRE target for myself.  Based on the amounts I've been saving to date, I could retire on a reduced budget in about 5 years and retire more comfortably in about 7 years.  So January 1, 2025 has become my tentative FIRE date.  But that FIRE date requires that things stay essentially the same.  It doesn't allow me to buy a house, nor does it account for the very real possibility that physician payments may be cut, or at the very least will not increase at the rate of inflation.   It's an anxiety-provoking FIRE date, rather than a liberating FIRE date.

So this weekend, I came up with a plan.  I've figured out how much I would need to save to FIRE in 10 years, when I will be 50, and it is about 2/3 of what I've been saving to date.  I'm going to take that amount and put 75% of it into investments and 25% of it towards repayment of my line of credit, thereby reducing my remaining time to pay off the LOC to another 4 years.  (Initially it was supposed to take 10 years, but thanks to a lump-sum payment this year and increasing my repayment rate, I've cut that by almost half.)  In the past year, I achieved this level of savings in all but two months (both big travel months), so it is a comfortable amount to set aside.  And I know that it is enough, so hopefully I can relax more knowing that I am meeting good savings targets.

The funny thing is, it won't really change much on a practical level.  I'm not going to go out and blow the 1/3 that I had previously been saving, as I am pretty happy with my current lifestyle.  Any extra money will simply go into a high-interest savings account, where it will act as a bit of a cushion for the months when I'm spending more or earning less than usual.  When it gets too big, I can either put it towards more investments or use it to pay down the debt more aggressively.  I'm not really changing how much I'm spending and saving, but I'm hoping that a bit of financial hocus-pocus will allow me to stop thinking about it so much and just focus on enjoying life.

Friday, December 1, 2017

I Made it Through NaBloPoMo!

30 days!  I started a day late, so I decided to post today to make it the full 30 days.  While not technically following the rules, it totally counts in my book.  Yay me!

I started NaBloPoMo on a total whim, and there were a few times I considered stopping.  Like after I wrote this totally uninspired post.  But I hate failing at anything, so I kept going even though I didn't always want to.

There have been lots of good things about the challenge.  For one, I am really darn proud of myself for sticking with it for 30 days, particularly given that I've not been feeling at my emotional best this month.  It's nice to know that I have the discipline to stick to something, even when the consequences for not doing so are essentially nil.  Second, I've loved all the comments I've been getting!  NaBloPoMo happened just after I joined Twitter, so the volume of comments has increased both from having more posts and from having more traffic.  I love that people will visit my blog, even though I'm just some random person somewhere in Canada, and I love even more that people are affected enough by what I write to leave a comment.  Thank you!  And I am sorry that I have been negligent at replying lately.  I blame Stranger Things.  I am still reading and appreciating every comment.

Lastly, I love that NaBloPoMo has gotten me thinking more creatively.  My work is very rote and routine most of the time, and it's easy for me to fall into boring life patterns.  I've appreciated being challenged to look at life differently and to come up with interesting things to say.  In a tiny way, it makes me feel a little bit more alive.  And the comments on this post have inspired me to take on another challenge at Christmas:  I'm going to write a play.  I've had an idea for a Fringe play bouncing around in my head for months, and I think 10 days will be enough for me to get a very rough draft written.  (Maybe?  Creampuff?  I feel like Creampuff, who is a professional playwright, is just laughing hysterically at this.  But worst case scenario I get something on paper.  Right?)  I don't have any intention of ever presenting the play at the Fringe (I have zero acting experience.  And just barely more than zero playwriting experience.), but I think the experience could be fun.

(Also, Judith Thompson told me to write a play.  I got to talk to her one-on-one for 45 amazing minutes at a local women's theatre festival, and she encouraged me to write a play.  And what else can you do when JUDITH THOMPSON TELLS YOU TO WRITE A PLAY?)

So this is the end of NaBloPoMo.  Huge thanks to Creampuff and OMDG and ana for keeping me company with their own NaBloPoMo writing.  Although I won't be writing every day anymore, I am committing to a minimum of one blog post per week going forward.  NaBloPoMo reminded me of how much I value this space, and I don't want to wait another year to write here regularly.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

How YouTube Saved me $200

(This is going to be really quick, as I need to leave for dinner with friends in 20 minutes.  Yay friends!  And dinner!)

All of my shoes decided to die simultaneously*, so over the past few weeks I have slowly been replacing them.  I have been doing it very slowly, because the idea of spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars at once, even if it is very necessary, makes my stomach turn.  My first purchase was a pair of work shoes, as my old shoes had passed the point of being acceptable months ago, and my second was a pair of hiking shoes.

I must have been tired when I bought the hiking shoes, because I clearly didn't spend enough time choosing them.  I tried on 3 or 4 different pairs, settled on the pair that felt best, and then walked around the store for a few minutes.  They felt generally okay, although not as comfortable as my seven-year-old pair, and I figured they would feel increasingly good the more I wore them.

No.

They got worse.  The shoes were tight in the front and loose in the back, meaning that I had to choose between painfully compressing the front of my feet because I had tied them tightly or almost walking out of the shoes because I had tied them loosely.  The more I wore them, the more I hated them.

The worst part was, in a fit of minimalism, I had thrown out the receipt and the insoles (I wear orthotics**), so I couldn't even take them back.  Which left me with the choice of a) wearing the bloody things for years until they wore out or b) getting rid of them and spending another $200 on a new pair of shoes.  For days I was tormented by the shoes, because I didn't want to continue being uncomfortable, but I also really really really hate wasting money.

Last night, I gave in and started looking on Mountain Equipment Co-op's website for other shoes.  I was done with sore feet, and I was going to just suck it up and buy new shoes.  But first, I decided to see what people who had bought my shoes had to say.  And found this:

OMG...that was me!  Someone whose heels keep slipping!  So I went on YouTube.  And found this video about how to tie shoes:


It has completely changed my feelings about the shoes.  I decided to try tying one of my shoes this way to see if it would help, and by the time I had walked to my car I was practically crying because I no longer despised my $200 shoes.  They fit!  From top to bottom!  And my heels don't slip anymore.

Moral of the story:  The internet is amazing.  And one should never throw out $200 pairs of shoes***.

Now to spend then $200 I saved on dinner****.

*This may have something to do with the fact that I hate spending money and shopping, so I put things off until the absolute last minute.  Like the zero-tread-left, ice-water-leaking-in-through-holes last minute.

**I am a good, book-loving, nerdy queer woman.  Who wears orthotics.

***I would not have thrown them out.  I would have re-homed them.

****I will not spend $200 on dinner.  I like eating out, but not that much.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

More Spoiler Alerts now that I have Watched the First Season of Stranger Things

So in the last episode of Season One of Stranger Things, there is a scene in which the Chief of Police has a flashback to the death of his daughter.  She is clearly dying of cancer, and the medical team is running a resuscitation code to try to "bring her back".

Why?  Why on earth would any physician run a code on someone with a terminal cancer?

One could argue that it's just television, but my understanding of the US medical system is that it isn't uncommon for people with terminal cancers to have CPR performed on them, to be intubated, and to be admitted to the ICU.  Which isn't at all the way things are practiced at the institutions where I trained.  Generally, when someone has a clearly terminal illness, the medical team will try to talk with the patient and his/her family to get them to choose a do not resuscitate order.  Sometimes the ICU will even refuse to take terminally ill patients.

Which to me seems to be the ethically right decision.  CPR is a horribly violent thing to put someone through, and few patients survive it to go on to have a meaningful quality of life.  For myself personally, I would only want resuscitation attempted if there was a reasonable chance of me recovering and surviving long-term.  If I had a terminal illness* and my heart stopped, I would want to be allowed to die without intervention.

And I don't think this is just my personal preference.  In my experience, most patients choose a DNR order when they are properly informed about what an attempted resuscitation entails and how low the survival rates are.  A refusal to accept a DNR is generally a result of poor communication from the medical team.

Thoughts?  For people in the medical profession, what have you seen in your institution(s)?

*God forbid, knock on wood, throw salt over my shoulder, etc.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Binge Watching Stranger Things (Slight Spoiler Alert for Anyone who has been Living Under a Rock and has not Watched the Show)

This past weekend, when I was feeling a bit bored and aimless, I tried to watch a few different shows on Netflix.  Orange is the New Black, Gilmore Girls, Breaking Bad.  Even though I've enjoyed all of them in the past, I couldn't quite get into them again.  I was beginning to think that I had moved beyond television and become someone who just does intellectual things like read books and drink sherry.

And then I started watching Stranger Things last night, and OMG it is so scary, but I can't stop watching it.  Every light in my apartment is on, and I'm probably going to have to sleep on the couch with the cats because my bedroom is now scary, but I really need to know what happens.

Also...the Chief of Police is an idiot.

And I really wish Eleven could talk more, because really?  Do we need to have a major female character who doesn't say more than 2 or 3 words at a time?

And that is my blog post for tonight, because I'm on episode 5 and I need to go to bed soon because my clinic starts at 7 am.

I will not start episode 6 tonight.

Probably not.

Although if I'm lying awake on the couch unable to sleep, what's the harm in watching another episode?